A lot has happened in our state that has changed people’s lives, but very few have had the impact of El Dorado’s promise.
I remember decades ago when Elaine and Claiborne Deming stopped by my office to share a vision for education.
Claiborne said: “Elaine and I really appreciate all the work you and Vertis have done in our downtown area, and we want to be involved in doing what we can for education. “
It was the seed, which became the Murphy Education Program, an academic incentive program that rewarded students in the El Dorado school district for their standardization test scores. The program is not currently active, but in the past several thousand students have benefited from it.
However, in late 2006, a visit by a good friend, Knox White, to Claiborne’s office, was poised to put education improvements in a new orbit. Knox was aware of a program in Kalamazoo, Mich. That funded tuition for postgraduate graduates, and knowing Deming’s involvement in creating a better educated community, he presented an overview of the Kalamazoo program in Claiborne.
Discussions ensued, and after some local guidelines were chopped up, the El Dorado pledge emerged, and Claiborne, who was the president of Murphy Oil Company, presented what became the El Dorado pledge to the board. administration of Murphy.
The donation of $ 50,000,000 to pay tuition fees and compulsory fees for graduates was adopted unanimously. One director commented, “We had some tough decisions today, but this one was easy.”
The pledge offers graduates of El Dorado High School a scholarship covering tuition and compulsory fees, which can be used at any accredited two- or four-year public or private educational institution in the United States. The maximum amount payable is the highest annual tuition fee for residents based on the amount charged by a public university in Arkansas, which is Arkansas Tech University.
Murphy Oil Corporation’s pledge was kept under wraps until it was announced at a high school assembly. When the shock of seeing their tuition paid, that is, hundreds of other graduates who didn’t think there was a way to go to college could now go to college, many seniors collapsed and cried.
It’ll be 15 years in January, and the El Dorado promise still brings in thousands of dollars a year. Each year since the entry into force of the Promise, between 400 and 500 students become students of the Promise.
In 2019, 2,662 Promise students attended 145 different colleges and universities in 35 states. Over 84% of 2016 EHS graduates eligible for Promise attend university. This percentage is significantly higher than the current Arkansas college attendance rate – 50.1% – and the national rate, 65.9% (according to the Arkansas Department of Education).
That number is also higher than the college attendance rate of El Dorado High School graduates before the pledge, which was 60%. Over 3,000 students have graduated with Promise Money.
If a student takes 30 hours per year for the Full 5 Year Promise, the total amount of Promised money would come to almost $ 50,000.
Residents of the city and the school district are also responding. After El Dorado’s pledge was announced, citizens voted in a millage run by a high school, which, combined with a state grant, built the new state-of-the-art high school.
El Dorado high school also responds. Before the Promise was announced, there were only three university preparatory courses
courses available. After the promise was in effect for ten years, it rose to 19.
Conversations around the high school campus are now “Where are you going to college?” Instead of “Are you going to college?” “
This year’s Kindergarten class learned that when they got out of high school, El Dorado’s promise would be there for them. Since the inception of the Promise, every kindergarten student in the district has received a Promise backpack, provided by Simmons Bank. The El Dorado Promise Principal and others visit each kindergarten class on the first day of school to hand out the backpacks, talk to students about the El Dorado Promise, and teach them the famous Promise Cheer.
This will be the 15th year of the El Dorado Promise, and Promise Week will be February 18-21. Sylvia Thompson, director of the Promise, would like to encourage parents and students who have been particularly helped by the Promise to contact her at [email protected]
The El Dorado Promise gives El Dorado High School graduates a better chance of getting a college education, and studies prove that the increase in the number of students attending college and graduating is directly related to the having participated in the El Dorado promise. This increases the number of students graduating from college and it shows up in every survey.
Since the beginning of the Promise and as more and more students enter college, it has become evident that they have to work harder to prepare. As the El Dorado School District reviewed the research-based curriculum to better prepare all students for college, the College Board’s Advanced Placement courses had data showing that students taking AP courses had higher success rate in college and were completing college in a shorter period of time.
In 2007, the district applied to become a member of the Arkansas Advanced Initiative to Improve Math and Science (AIMMS). The district was one of eight schools selected. The goals of this endeavor were to increase the number of students taking AP courses, increase the diversity of AP students, and increase the number of passing grades.
Parents’ meetings are organized to better inform families of the importance of rigorous coursework and its role in college success. As a result, parents, students and teachers have started to demand more rigorous curricula and more and more students are enrolling in AP courses.
This resulted in a change in the curriculum and pre-AP classes are now starting in college. The earlier introduction of students into the pre-AP resulted in an increase in AP enrollment in high school. AP enrollments at El Dorado High School have increased 164% over the past 10 years. From less than 100 students choosing AP courses, now more than 400 students choosing the most demanding classes.
Even with the dramatic increase in the number of students taking AP courses, the percentage of students passing the tests has remained stable. (The pledge information comes from Sylvia Thompson and the Pledge webpage.)
The pledge is part of an initiative to create a more viable city and reverse population loss. The Promise, along with the new Murphy Arts District, the renovated award-winning downtown, the new high school, the new conference center and, last but not least, the Wildcat State Championship football team, all work together to make El Dorado the quality of life amenities sought by skilled workers on the move. Phase two of the new Murphy Arts District, which has been delayed by COVID-19, will include a fine arts museum and a conversion of the Rialto Theater to a theater on Broadway.
As one poet once said, “The best is yet to come.”
Richard Mason is an author and lecturer. He can be contacted at [email protected]